When people ask me ‘what’s the best car you’ve ever owned?’ there’s only ever been one answer: my old E46 330i Touring that I bought for £140. It was rusty as hell and visually unappealing, but a reliable old dog that was easy to work on and powerful enough to keep me entertained.
Indeed, I’ll go as far as to say that the M54B30 3.0 straight-six is my favourite engine ever, producing over 228bhp while returning (on my Touring, at least) over 40mpg on a long run. Chuck a spicy exhaust into the mix, and the M54’s rasp is out of this world, too.
I owned that car for a couple of years and then moved it on to a guy who stripped and ripped it on track. Headgasket failure eventually killed the Touring, but at our recent Car Throttle meet at Caffeine and Machine, I was unexpectedly reunited with the car when it rolled in on the back of a trailer. And then it happened…a switch in my brain flicked on and demanded I buy another 330i Touring. Great.
A couple of days later, I voiced my new desire on Instagram, and shortly after, I had the car for me. It was a clean-bodied 318i Touring with 330i running gear. Owner Edwin messaged to tell me it would be up for sale soon and so a date was set to see it (and likely drive home in it). Saturday came, and a few hours before my date with destiny, a Techno Violet-shaped spanner was thrown into the works. “Hello mate, heard on the grapevine you’re looking for a Touring - this is mine…”
It was nearly double what I was hoping to pay, but the temptation was too great to ignore. One of one ever made in this spec, a genuine 330i Touring Individual with a manual box, B14 coilovers, a Quaife limited-slip differential and Techno Violet paint. What’s more, this thing was on moon miles (217k), and if there’s one thing I love more than myself, it’s a high mileage hero.
My date with Edwin was therefore postponed (I explained and apologised), and before I knew it, I was en route to a man called Taylor to see Taylor’s Touring. As soon as I stepped inside his garage, I knew I was in trouble - the 330i (affectionately known as Barney the Dinosaur) took one look at me and decided I had to be its new owner, no matter how rusty its arches (they’re bad).
Closer inspection underneath revealed undamaged jacking points and a clean floor, and after firing up the M54 from cold, I was sold. Not only did this engine sound good for the mileage, but it also sounded better than any other M54 I’ve heard with the bonnet up. What’s more, the brake lines are new, the cooling system has been overhauled and there are stacks and stacks of paperwork.
A 10-minute test drive also confirmed my need to have this car. OK, so the B14s are too stiff for my liking, and there are rear-end creaks that need investigating, but the handling and road holding are sublime, and to have such a rare car is an opportunity I can’t ignore.
To date, I’m yet to do more than 100 miles, but I’ll be driving the car to a garage soon to get it on a ramp to wind the coilovers up a touch and have a proper look underneath. The arches need attention (the front wings probably need replacing), and as you might have seen on my Instagram stories, a broken fuel pump sender left me stranded on the M40.
But hey, that’s why I like old cars, especially E46s - there’s never a dull moment. Regardless of this little glitch in the matrix, I’m still over the moon with my impulse purchase and can’t wait to put more miles on it.